Recipe: Flavour fiesta – Tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago.
Tarta de Santiago - delicious with ice cream.
Now shocking though it might seem for someone writing a food blog, I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. Even as a child, I was never particularly mesmerised by bonbons, biscuits, or chocolate and this is a trait that has remained with me to this day. Don’t get me wrong, if I am out to dinner I will more often than not finish proceedings with a sweet of some variety, but this tends to be somewhat of an afterthought.

The upshot of my apparent sweet indifference is that I rarely tend to cook puddings unless I’m entertaining. But when I do, as was the case when cooking my Spanish-themed lunch for friends a couple of weeks ago, one of the sweets I frequently serve is based on the delicious recipe for Tarta de Santiago to be found in the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Moro – the cookbook.

Tarta de Santiago is a deceptively simple, yet incredibly appetising almond-based tart which originates from the Spanish region of Galicia. It literally translates as “St James Tart”, in honour of the patron saint of Spain, the remains of which are buried in the Galician capital city of Santiago de Compostela.

This particular version of the tart combines almonds, with intense citrus notes provided by lemon and orange zest, exotically aromatic cinnamon, and the nutty-fruity flavour that comes from a generous glug of oloroso sherry. The quince paste which is spread on the tart base also gives a fruity, slightly tart hint to the pudding.

Tarta de Santiago can be served either warm or cold and is great accompanied by yoghurt or crème fraiche. Personally, I like to pair it with the delicious ice cream made with vanilla, and raisins soaked in Pedro Ximénez sherry, but you will have to obtain your own copy of Moro – the cookbook, for that particular recipe.

Actually, having just realised how effusive I have been about how good this particular pudding is, maybe it's the case that I’m not so averse to sweets after all…

Recipe: Flavour fiesta – In praise of pimentón; slow roast, marinated shoulder of lamb, with patatas bravas

Slow roast marinated lamb shoulder.
Five hours in the oven - off for a rest.
Pimentón – that’s the answer! This flash of inspiration entered my head when thinking about how I was going to frame a piece about the main course of the Spanish-themed menu I recently cooked. If you have read my previous two posts on Scrummy Scran you will have learnt how I fell in love with Spanish cuisine, and about the Galician seafood soup that kicked off a recent lunch for friends involving the cuisine of Spain. So now to provide some insight into that meal’s main course – marinated, slow roast shoulder of lamb with patatas bravas – and the role pimentón plays in both these dishes.

Pimentón (or paprika, to give the spice its more common Slavic/Hungarian-derived name) is an essential constituent in a plethora of Spanish dishes. It adds a savoury, even earthy element to cooking, which can also be smokey and sometimes fiery. The spice is produced from various varieties of red peppers (Capsicum annuum) which were originally introduced to Spain from South America by Columbus. Grown in the Extremadura and Murcia regions of Spain, when ripe the peppers are harvested and then dried (frequently over oak fires, which give the spice a deep smokey note) before being stone ground to form a fine powder. Depending on the variety of red pepper used, the pimentón produced can be sweet, bittersweet, or picante (or hot, if a species of chilli is the predominant capsicum constituent). The smokey, earthy flavours of pimentón are essential to both my main course dishes, but work with these in different ways.

Firstly, the slow-roast lamb. This consists of a shoulder joint with the bone in (in this case purchased from Edinburgh’s excellent Crombie’s butchers) which is marinated overnight in a mixture of garlic, smoked pimentón, sherry vinegar, oregano and olive oil. When preparing this dish, I place the joint in a large, re-sealable freezer bag and pour in the marinade, before massaging it into the lamb, and placing in fridge. The several hours immersed in this mixture allows the vinegar and oil to carry the herb and spice flavours deep into the flesh, beautifully complementing the taste of the spring lamb. It is then slowly roast for at least four-six hours, which makes the meat both succulent and so tender it can be carved with forks, as opposed to knives.

Patatas bravas.
Patatas bravas - the pleasure of pimentón.
For the patas bravas, the pimentón is of the picante variety. This really provides a kick of heat to the
rich, slightly fruity, tomato and herb sauce that compliments the crispy roast potatoes. And before any traditionalists jump in, yes the potatoes are normally deep fried but I prefer coat them in olive oil and seasoning and then roast them in a ceramic dish. They are just as beautifully golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and you hear a satisfying bubbling from the sauce as it is poured on the spuds just after they emerge from the oven.

When preparing these recipes they work best when using a good quality pimentón – either pimentón de la Vera (which is smoked), or Pimentón de Murcia (which is not smoked). Both these have their authenticity protected, and come in the sweet, bitter-sweet, and picante varients.

The following recipes are my interpretations of those to be found in the excellent Moro: The Cookbook, which – as I have mentioned in previous posts – has been a big influence on my ventures into cooking Spanish cuisine. I would accompany the dishes with either steamed, new season broad beans, or the excellent chickpea, tomato and cucumber salad, which is also listed in the Moro cookbook.

The dishes will easily serve four people as a main course.

Recipe: Flavour fiesta - Caldo de pescado (Galician fish soup with clams and prawns)

Caldo de pescado fish soup.
Delicious Caldo de pescado.
I have yet to visit Galicia, but it is very much on my ‘to do’ list. Perched at the very north-western corner of Spain, it is meant to be beautifully mountainous and has a much more temperate climate than the rest of the country, thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic. Given Galicia’s closeness to the ocean, and the fact its coastline is more than 1,500 km in length, it’s unsurprising that fishing is a mainstay of the region’s economy. Vigo – Galicia’s main port – is believed to be second only to Tokyo in terms of the quantity of fish landed annually, with an incredible 733,000 metric tons of seafood passing through the port in 2007.

This wee geography lesson is just my way of getting to the point that Galicians love their seafood, and they have some fantastic ways to prepare it. When cooking with good quality, fresh seafood, dishes don’t necessarily have to be complicated. This recipe for Caldo de pescado (Galician fish soup with clams and prawns) demonstrates that fact beautifully. It’s my own take on a recipe that appears in the Casa Moro cookbook, and which originates from one of Moro’s Galician chefs, David Loureiro Martinez.

Foodie Thoughts: Flavour fiesta - How I fell for Spanish cuisine...

Mercat de La Boqueria.
Mercat de La Boqueria (Filip Maljkovic/Wikimedia)
Anyone reading my previous posts on the Scrumptious Scran blog will gather that I’m a big fan of Mediterranean food, and Spanish cuisine in particular. I can trace my interest in Spanish food back to my first 'proper' visit to Spain in the mid-1990s. The family holiday to the Costa Brava, ten years earlier, though enjoyable didn’t involve the teenage me eating much that could be considered ‘typically’ Spanish, as I recall.

In 1994, my long-time pal David and I visited Barcelona for a few days, staying in a friend of a friend’s delightfully shabby apartment in the city’s El Raval district. This was two years after the Olympics had put Spain’s second city firmly on the map as a tourist destination. Yet the neighbourhoods – 'barris' in Catalan – that constitute Barcelona’s old town – Ciutat Vella – were then nowhere near as gentrified or touristy as they are today. Despite the Olympic boost they remained slightly run down, stoically clinging on to their working-class communities, and even being a wee bit gritty in places.

My abiding memories of this first visit to Barcelona are liberally peppered with the smells and tastes of Spanish food and drink. Of course, I now realise that what I was predominantly sampling was the Catalan contribution to what is a 'national' cuisine that is a mosaic of regional variation and speciality. David and I would spend hours in the glorious October sunshine exploring the maze-like lanes off La Rambla, or the Parisian-esque boulevards of El Eixample, stopping to sample the fiesta of food and drink available round every corner, wherever it took our fancy.

Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia (Bgag/Wikimedia)
For breakfast we would partake of the deceptively simple, yet totally delicious, pan amb tomaquet - slices of freshly-baked baguette, drizzled with grassy-flavoured olive oil and liberally rubbed with garlic and sweet tomato. Lunch, often in a workers’ cantina or neighbourhood bar, might consist of a hearty stew of white beans, butifarra sausage and subtly cooked, fantastically tender tripe. Or maybe we would sample esqueixada - a salad of onions, tomatoes, peppers, red wine vinegar and shredded, rehydrated bacalao (salt cod). And if we were partaking of the ubiquitos ‘menu del dia’ (the amazingly reasonable lunch specials) these mains would be precursed with a starter such as sopa de gamba – shrimp soup – and followed with a dessert of luxurious crema catalana. Such a feast would, of course, be accompanied with a chilled bottle of Catalan red wine, or a glass or two of cerveza negra - a dark, nutty lager.

The culinary wonder of Barcelona wasn’t merely confined to its bars and cafes, however. For me, a visit to Mercat de La Boqueria - Barcelona's largest food market - was an utter revelation. Located half way down La Rambla, it is a cathedral to superb ingredients. Stall after stall was (and still is) piled to the rafters with the most amazing produce: gleamingly fresh arrays of fruit and vegetables; butchers selling a myriad of cuts which encompassed - quite literally - everything from nose to tail; an abundance of fish and shellfish, many of which I struggled to identify despite a background in marine biology; cheeses in all shapes, sizes and intensities, and floating forests of hanging hams; purveyors who entirely dedicated their pitch to wild mushrooms, olives and anchovies, nuts and dried fruits of all varieties, or simply sensational salt cod. And then there was the thrill of dining amongst traders and shoppers in the bustling bars adjacent to the market, sampling great tapas and chilled, dry cava.

Review: The Skylark – All aboard the Skylark

The Skylark by night
The Skylark by night.
Living on the east side of Edinburgh, it’s always a pleasure to visit the city’s “Riviera” that is Portobello. Though it may have lost some of its Victorian sea-side grandeur, “Porty” – as it is affectionately known – still boasts a great beach and promenade and some fine architecture. What’s more, its villagey feel seems to be continually enhanced by the ever-increasing number of establishments providing decent food and drink.

A relative newcomer amongst these is a smashing wee café-bistro called The Skylark, which is located on Portobello’s High Street (241/243). Open since July 2012, it occupies two former Victorian shop frontages which have been tastefully combined to form a very inviting bar/café/kitchen space. The premises are certainly striking, with the owners having chosen to strip back the décor to reveal bare brick and original architectural features. This goes very well with the mish-mash of shabby-chic tables and chairs with which the place is furnished. Plus, the bar and kitchen area is also open to the rest of the café – always a good sign/brave move if chefs are happy to prepare food in sight of punters. Personally, I love being able to glance at chefs busy preparing my order.

Recipe: Spring fresh – Sautéed monkfish cheeks, with salsa verde, and asparagus and broad bean salad


Sauteed monkfish cheeks with salsa verde.
Green and tasty.
For me, spring is one of my favourite times for cooking with seasonal produce. Don’t get me wrong, I also love autumn for its rich abundance of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. Yet after a long winter – where the choice of fresh produce can be limited – there is something revitalising about being able to once again cook with a harvest of fresh, green ingredients.

So having purchased some “just from the sea” fresh monkfish cheeks from Clark Brothers fishmongers, I decided to keep things clean-tasting by simply sautéing the fish and pairing it with a salad of spring vegetables and vibrant green salsa verde. This classic, Italian sauce makes a great accompaniment for meat and fish, with the fresh flavours of the parsley and basil being complimented by savoury background tones provided by the capers and anchovy, and the acidity of the lemon juice.

For the salad, I turned once again to British asparagus – I always try and make the most of this vegetable during its all too short season – matching this with the first of this season’s tender broad beans, and roast baby plum tomatoes. I also added a few toasted walnuts to provide some crunch and flavour contrast to the zippy freshness of the other salad ingredients.

With all those fresh flavours this certainly is a recipe that should put a spring to anyone’s step.

(This recipe should serve four as a substantial lunch or light supper)

Supplier spotlight – Clark Brothers: A delicious kettle of fish…


Clark Bros, Musselburgh.
Clark Bros, Musselburgh.
Of all the ingredients with which I love to both cook and to eat, fish and shellfish have to rate amongst my favourite. The different tastes and textures to be had from the bounty dwelling in our seas, lochs and rivers are immense. And if properly fished or farmed – and increasingly these days, that is a big “if” – fish and shellfish must count amongst the most sustainable and natural food products to be had.

I’m always a little surprised when some people seem to be a bit squeamish about buying and preparing seafood - but then I was a marine biologist in a previous incarnation. Maybe such trepidation has to do with the alien-like form it can exhibit; all tentacles, shells, antennae and/or bulging eyes. Or possibly it is because people struggle to differentiate between what is fresh and what has exceeded its “shelf life”.

For those nervous about preparing seafood there are some great guides available. In terms of ensuing that what you are buying is good, fresh fish and shellfish just turn detective and use your instincts. Do the eyes and skin of the fish look bright and moist as opposed to dull and dry? Lift the flaps around the neck of the fish and inspect the gills – they should be bright red and not greying. If you pick a fish up it should be stiff and not floppy. Does your fish have a sweet, salty “fresh out of the sea” smell as opposed to a strong ammoniacal odour? Similar rules apply to shellfish, and never buy any bivalves – clams, mussels, scallops – that don’t close their shells tightly when tapped.

And whilst not wishing to be dismissive of supermarkets entirely – some have reasonable fish counters – I would recommend buying your aquatic produce somewhere local, independent, and with staff that can hopefully inform you of exactly when and where that monkfish you have your eye on was caught, and that he’s called Burt… Seriously though, a good local fishmonger will be able to tell you which wholesale market each batch of fish or shellfish has originated from, and if the produce is locally derived, or has been sourced from further afield.

Residing in Scotland, I am fortunate to live in one of the best fish and shellfish-producing countries in the world. Scottish coastal waters are bountiful with a great range of seafood. However, in common with many other countries, not all our fisheries – of fish farms – can be considered sustainable, with certain stocks coming under pressure and some production methods resulting in environmental damage. If you want to ensure the fish or shellfish you are buying is sustainable, be sure to visit the Marine Conservation Society’s online Good Fish Guide

Dover sole & turbot.
Dover sole & turbot.
Being Edinburgh-based, I’m lucky to have some great independent fishmongers a beach pebble’s throw away from where I live. One of my favourites is Clark Brothers. Situated just outside Edinburgh’s city limits on the edge of Musselburgh’s harbour (220 New Street, EH21 6DJ), this fantastic fish merchant has been selling quality produce for nearly 100 years.

The shop is always packed with a fantastically good range of produce, and is constantly busy with customers eager to purchase it. Traditional fish varieties – such as Scottish cod and haddock – rub fins with more exotic specimens, including John Dory, organically farmed seat trout and monkfish cheeks.

Review: La Garrigue – Fine flavours of the Languedoc, to counter a dreich capital day

Painting of La Garrigue restaurant.
La Garrigue (courtesy of the restaurant's website).
It's the end of April and today is, once again, one of those days this month when it's blowing a hoolie. What's more, the gale force wind only serves to ensure that the accompanying hail and sleet is near horizontal. I do love Scotland, but sometimes I long to escape its weather for more warm and sunny climes. But not being able to jump on a plane to Spain or the South of France, last Friday my other half and myself decided to do the next best thing - we injected a little culinary sunshine into our evening by dining at the southern French eatery, La Garrigue.

Located a stone's throw from Waverley Station, on Jeffery Street, this bistro has been a fixture on the Edinburgh gastronomic scene for 12 years. It specialises in the cuisine of the Languedoc (or 'Le Midi') region of France, hence the name which references to the aromatic, herb-dominated scrubland common to the area. So shunning yet another sharp April shower, JML and I were greeted by the restaurant's welcoming French waiters and seated in front of the bistro’s huge picture windows that provide stunning views of Calton Hill.

Within a couple of minutes of the menus being delivered to us we were asked if we would like an aperitif. Now in my book, this is always a good start to dinner, and quite typical of Mediterranean dining. So sipping 'un pousse rapier' - a sort of champagne cocktail - and a nicely chilled Muscat sec, we made our dining choices. Not an easy task as, going by the dish descriptions, everything on the menu seemed inviting.

JML chose to start with the pig's head 'fromage' accompanied by a gribiche sauce. A very inviting slab of succulent terrine arrived which was moist and full with rich pork flavour. The creamy, eggy sauce that accompanied it - sharpened by capers, tarragon and cornichons - made for an excellent counterpoint to the meat. My first course choice of 'traditional' fish soup with croutons and rouille was every bit as good as I had hoped for - a dark vermilion bowl of intense seafood tastes that could have come straight from a Mediterranean port, paired with crisp toasted bread slices and home-made saffron mayonnaise.

Beef cheek with parsnip purée.
Beef cheek with parsnip purée.
Whilst we were still discussing how good our starters were, our meaty mains were served. I had decided upon rabbit stuffed with walnut and liver farce, on a bed of salsify and winter veg (the veg chosen to match the weather, I assume). Now rabbit is a real litmus test of a good kitchen. Cooked badly, it is dry and tough. My lapin was the polar opposite, being succulent and bathed in a flavoursome, but not overpowering, gravy. The dish really shone thanks to the addition of the stuffing which added a real depth of umami. JML's slow cooked cheek of beef, with glazed carrots and parsnip purée was equally impressive. I love beef or pig cheeks, especially when slow cooked and served with lashings of sauce from the casserole. This meltingly tender morsel ticked all the right boxes in that respect.

Rabbit stuffed with walnuts and a liver.
Rabbit stuffed with walnuts and a liver.
We paused for a while, and sipped on our very pleasant glasses of Languedoc red wine (Les Acrobats 2011), before ordering pudding. This provided an opportunity to take in the ambience of La Garrigue, which matches chunky, stripped wood tables and chairs with bright lavendar walls, all providing a nice bistro vibe to the restaurant's quirky layout. Yet by the time our final course arrived, and with all covers occupied, the restaurant was a wee bit too southern French in one respect - it was becoming decidedly too warm.